God is love and hence humility. Christmas is the feast of God’s humility because God humbled Himself and made His dwelling among us, taking upon himself the poor, the humble, and the suffering of the world. In order to celebrate Christmas in spirit and in truth, humility is needed in order to recognize God who, by making His dwelling among us, took upon Himself the poor, the humble, and the suffering.
This was the heart of the sermon that the preacher of the Papal Household, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa delivered to Pope Francis and his close collaborators Friday morning, in the third week of Advent, according to Vatican News.
“He made His dwelling among us” was the theme of the reflection of the cardinal, who noted that with the incarnation, an irreversible action was accomplished. The Son of Man came down on earth and God cannot perish. Emmanuel, or “God-with-us”, is on man’s side, as a friend and an ally against the forces of evil.
The perfect union between divinity and humanity in the person of Christ was the greatest of all possible novelties, Cardinal Cantalamessa pointed. However, some could not accept the paradox and scandal of the Word making His dwelling among us, because according to them no God ever mixes with man.
The obstacle to believing in the incarnation is the lack of humility. St. Augustine acknowledges this when he says, “failing to be humble, I could not understand God’s own humility”. This, Cardinal Cantalamessa said, is the ultimate root of modern atheism.
The papal preacher pointed out that it takes little power to show off but it takes a lot more power to step aside and to efface yourself. And this is what God does in His infinite power of self-effacement. He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, and humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Hence the two claims ‘God is love’ and ‘God is humility’ are like two sides of the same coin. It is about making yourself small out of love, to let other people emerge. In that sense, only God is truly humble.
The heart of the mystery of incarnation, which is the Word becoming flesh and making His dwelling among us, means that God is with us for good, which is irreversible.
When John the Baptist preached about Jesus, as “one among you whom you do not recognize”, people found it difficult to believe that the long-awaited Messiah could be a man so humble and ordinary, about whom we know everything, including his village.
The stumbling block at the time of the Baptist was Jesus’s physical body, which was like ours, except for sin. Today, the cardinal said, the main stumbling block is His mystical body, the Church, which is like the rest of humanity, including in sin. Today, God also needs to be recognized in the poverty and misery of His Church and in the poverty and misery of our own lives. This sheds a special light on the current issue of poverty and on how the Christian responds to it.
In this regard, the papal preacher drew attention to a remark by Jean Guitton, the lay observer at the Second Vatican Council. He wrote, “The Council Fathers have rediscovered the sacrament of poverty, that is the presence of Christ under the species of those who suffer.”
Jesus instituted the Eucharist when He said, ‘This is my body’. In the same way, the cardinal pointed out, He also instituted this sign, this ‘sacrament’ of poverty, taking upon himself the poor, the humble, and the suffering when he said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
The concept of the ‘the Church of the poor” that Saint John XXIII coined at the Second Vatican Council, the cardinal explained, does not consist only of the poor within the Church itself but in a certain sense, all the poor of the world, whether they are baptized or not.
Just as there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn, so too nowadays there is no room for the poor in the inn of the world. However, history has shown on which side God is and on which side the Church is meant to be. To go to the poor is to imitate God’s humility. It is making oneself small out of love, to raise those who are below.